Entrainment

 

The Tao never does anything,

yet through it all things are done.

If powerful men and women
could centre themselves in it,
the whole world would be transformed
by itself, in its natural rhythms.

~ Lao Tzu

"Surprise is the nature of the universe."  

Words spoken by the character ‘Lu-Tze’, (the 'Sweeper') in ‘The Thief of Time’ by Terry Pratchett

 

Entrainment in the biomusicological sense refers to the synchronization of organisms to an external perceived rhythm such as human music and dance.

Examples are such behaviours as involuntary foot tapping to music, sympathetic resonance between two violin strings and finding oneself walking in rhythm to the background music played in a hotel or railway station.

Entrainment can happen when music takes us to 'another space' - we 'bliss out'.

We often talk about people blissfully living in their 'bubble'.  We talk about politicians living in their bubble of reality not necessarily aware of the lives of others. We run the risk of becoming entrained by our own 'bubbles'. Before you choose to believe that you don't have your own bubble just be aware that the likes of Google and Facebook know about your bubble. They like to feed your 'bubble'.  They think they know what you like.

More deeply, in certain circumstances we can become mesmerised by the charm and oratory of a speaker or leader. The risk in being mesmerised in this way is that we 'lose' both ourselves and our ability to discern truth from fiction.  Donald Trump has 'alternative facts'. His core voters seem to believe these 'facts'. One might question if they have in fact been 'entrained' by 'The Donald'.  If they are entrained then this is evidence of just how powerful the process of entrainment can be.

But as with many human activities there are two sides to them; one very much in the light and the other fostering states of darkness.  Being able to alter one's mind state is both very healthy and also potentially very destructive especially if one is unaware of being in the entraining process. 

Gaslighting is a form of entrainment. It is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and ultimately lose her or his own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth. Gaslighting can occur in personal relationships, at the workplace, or over an entire society.

A lot can be learned about entrainment from the experience of playing and being involved in music. Entrainment is a fundamental principle of music itself. Whether you are listening to Mozart or experiencing a 'sound bath' if you lose yourself in the experience you are allowing or permitting the experience of entrainment.  This power to change one's mind-state through the use of sound processes, be they as tightly organised a piece of classical music or as free-form as a sound healing experience, is essentially very healthy. 

So we are all susceptible to entrainment both positive and negative. Even in music we can find ourselves in situations where we are all 'connected' and somehow the performance becomes raised beyond just the notes. It becomes greater than the sum of its parts. We are acutely aware of everything that's happening around us and our connections to each other. We feel as if we're each responding to the other in a way that transcends normal reality. These experiences are very well worthwhile and we value them when they occur.

On the other hand there are times when the music we are performing feels 'stuck' almost as if we're in a holding pattern. Everything feels routine. No-one seems to able to break the pattern. It's as if the notes have a stranglehold on us. We are in its grip. Sometimes, oddly we'd rather just leave things as they are. It's nice enough.  For some this feels 'safe'. We know where  we are. Let's just remain here. It almost feels too risky to let go.  But the music is dull.

Leaving aside what I've said already about more serious dangers, doesn't this sound familiar? Life becomes dull.  We're in a pattern. It's safe. Don't change it. Keep things as they are. This isn't what life was meant to be about, I guess, but I'd rather not break out of the hold this life has of me...

As a violinist, I play mainly 'classical' music. It is easy to become enmeshed in the 'bubble' of the way the piece you are playing ought to sound losing sight of the fact the music needs to 'come alive'.  To achieve this I often feel the need to take risks with the music rather than play it safe.  Unfortunately one can't take risks with the notes the composer intended but one can really explore both the ambiguity inherent within musical composition in terms of its rhythm and especially the 'tone'. Classical musicians live in a bubble of other people's almost clinical perfection. Giving themselves permission to step outside is not only liberating, it brings the music alive.

In life we can often be faced with the same expectations of near perfection. Sometimes we just have to do it that way.  But to bring a sense of freedom even within these constraints there are, if you open yourself and look, many subtle ways of performing behaviours which bring dull experiences to life.  Change the rhythm a little. Alter the tone in which you perform your duties. Alter the order of things if you can. However if you work in a burger franchise I suggest you stick with the recipe. However where you can explore variations be prepared to be surprised by what you find.

In sound healing situations things are different from my classical violin playing.  There many more notes; many more sounds. There are fewer rules but there are still some processes.  The processes lead towards a deep sense of bliss which is often considered very much to be the desired state.  Attending a weekend workshop of 'sound-work' of this nature is a real antidote to the mental stresses of 'normal' human existence.  It is desirable state but it isn't the 'end-point'. Stopping at these bliss-spaces is maybe all you need but be aware that even here you can get 'stuck'.  If you're on the receiving end of a sound bath there's nothing you can do to control the situation and nor would you want to. But even here you will usually find that with it being performed by other members of the group and despite it being expected to be a homogeneous sound experience often it can have some surprises in store. It's worth noting how your brain-state shifts and alters with the way the 'improvisation' manifests. Players often bring in unexpected sounds. They might 'blend' up to a point but nevertheless they're not what you expected. As you lie there receiving the sound bath you can choose to follow the unexpected if you want. It will be there. It can't not.

Group sound improvisation often leads to entrainment. In many situations this is neither good nor bad. When something is really 'happening' in the improvisation we like it. We're there. We're in it. It's alive and it's beautiful. 

Unfortunately there's a certain point after which we seem not to be 'moving on'.  At this point in these notes you could thinking that it's a sign of my impatience. But I would point out that there sometimes seems to be a moment when the musical creation is definitely going nowhere.  As a consequence it eventually just seems to 'peter out' and die almost as if it's just run out of oxygen.  This seems to happen quite often, so often in fact that I wonder if there isn't 'another way'.  Sometimes the way out is to actually 'risk' 'popping the bubble'; to break the entrainment.  This could be the introduction of a 'wrong note' although this often feels as if it takes great courage to do. Having the courage to do this, finding the strength to do this can often result in one of those 'life lessons' that we like to seek.

At other times the route out can be to wait and be patient. Don't force it. Just see what occurs as the soundscape begins to 'wilt'. In its dying embers new material can often emerge as the mask of entrainment starts to slip. This requires real listening skills and a willingness to pick out and respond to this looser material. If this happens the piece becomes refreshed and might even start a whole new creation with a new mind-state for those involved.  And there's nothing to stop players from 'borrowing' ideas from the previous section to give a sense of wholeness.

I think you can see where I am going with this. "Surprise is the nature of the universe." according to Lu Tze in Terry Pratchett's book "Thief of Time".

Look for the 'surprises'. They're not necessarily big and brash. Sometimes they are very quiet and subtle. Be prepared and just listen for them.

PlayTheViolin

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